Ratatouille

Tonight I made ratatouille.  It didn’t turn out that fabulous, but it did get me thinking about words from other languages.

Every language has words that come directly (or nearly so) from other languages.  My high school language teacher (who was also something of a linguist) referred to them as “borrowed words” which I think is pretty apt.  I’m not talking about the gradual offspring words that grow naturally from a language’s ancestor, words in English that bear a similarity to those of other French or Italian because they evolved from the same original Latin root.  I’m talking about words that we got directly from another language, because we didn’t have a word for that and we needed one.  It’s the “Hey, they already have a name for this, let’s just use it” mentality, and you find it in every language.

The immediate examples I can think of are food and technology.  We’ll get to technology in a minute; let’s start with food!  Food is very regional (has anybody outside of South Dakota ever heard of chislic?) and when it gets moved to different areas, it often keeps its original name.  You can order paella or ratatouille, cook some farfalle to eat with your chardonnay, and none of these words will ping your spellcheck even though they are Spanish, French, Italian, and French again, respectively.  This doesn’t just happen in English.  You can go to Japan and order a hanbaagaa and biiru if you’re craving some American food.  (Say the a “ah” and the ii “eee” and you should get it.)  I especially like the example of hanbaagaa, because it’s a Japanese version of an English word borrowed from a German place!  (It’s a double borrow!)

Now let’s talk technology.  This is an area where things go global quickly, so the name sometimes just gets moved around the world with the item itself.  For example, in Japanese, Korean, and Polish, the word for computer sounds remarkably like the English word “computer.”  Of course, the nicknames that develop are different regionally – think “mobile” (British) versus “cell” (American) to reference the same kind of phone.  There are also places (like France) where the people in charge of the language will actually make sure to find a suitable word within the language, even for new technology.  (According to my best friend, there are not a lot of borrowed words in French.  They are very protective of their language.)

At this point I need to step up on my mini-soapbox for a brief minute.  As a former student of Japanese, it makes me crazy when borrowed words end up mispronounced.  Karaoke becomes “carry-oh-key” and I make ugly faces.  I mean, really, in what other English word is the letter A pronounced “ee”?  Kah-rah-oh-kay, people.  And sake ends in “ay,” not “ee”!

Let’s get back on track and look at what this means for writing.  Fantasy authors make up words (and sometimes whole languages) all the time, for fictional races and species.  Given how the real world works, with different cultures using the same word for something, wouldn’t it make sense that two races (humans and elves, perhaps) would experience a similar effect?  This would especially be the case if they were connected very suddenly, with sharing of food and technology and many other things all at once.  (That’s why Japanese has so many borrowed words – when they rejoined the world from years of isolation, they got a sudden influx of lots of foreign stuff.)

Just something to think about the next time you order sushi and work on your novel!

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Writing About Food

I recently started recording some of my adventures with my weekly CSA vegetables.  When the little blurbs turn out acceptably, I’ve been sending them to the owner of the farm where I get my veggies.  She’s included several of them in the weekly newsletter, which is very cool!

Writing about food and cooking is different from writing fiction, but I have found it quite similar to blogging.  The toughest part is figuring out how to write so it doesn’t sound like a recipe.  It’s gotten easier as I’ve been going, but it is an interesting exercise.  I’m enjoying the opportunity to stretch my writing wings, as it were!

That Silly Thanksgiving Poem

When I was in elementary school I wrote a silly Thanksgiving poem.  The school created a “book” of students’ writing and drawings, and somehow the food-related poem ended up in the publication.

I have no idea how they chose what went in; that was a long time ago.

I don’t remember the whole poem, but the final verse was family humor for a while so it stuck.  It occasionally pops into my head, particularly when I overeat.  (Tonight I ate way too much barbecue, and the poem appeared on cue.)

I know, I know.  Now I have to share:

I ate so much I think I’ll die.
Oh my gosh, there’s cherry pie!
My grandma makes the very best,
I’ll cut one slice and eat the rest!

Not fantastic, but you can see why it shows up when I pig out!

Description Game Follow-Up: A Confession

On Monday I posted a little game for you to play.  If you missed it, you can read more here.

For a review, here are the descriptions that I wrote:

1. She lifted the plump, glistening berry to her lips.  As she bit into it, sweet juices flooded her mouth.  She grinned and reached for another.

2. The liquid was refreshing as it rushed down his throat.  He took another mouthful and let the cold sweetness linger before he swallowed.  With a sigh of contentment he carefully set down his glass on a coaster.

3. As the steam rose, she inhaled and enjoyed the scent of the soup in front of her.  She dipped her spoon into the bowl and let the savory warmth pour across her tastebuds.  Reaching for a piece of bread, she held it into the soup and let it soak.

4. He grinned as he licked the sweet, creamy icing off of his fingers.  With one finger still coated, he dabbed the bottom of the cupcake paper to collect the last few crumbs.  One cupcake gone, he paused and then reached for a second.

Before I tell you the “answers” I have a confession.  For two of these, specifically #2 and #3, I didn’t have a concrete image in my head when I wrote them.   In fact, I wavered between a couple of different items as I wrote them.   Now that I’ve made that admission, here’s what I was picturing.

1. Strawberry – this is the description that inspired the game!
2. I wavered between lemonade and sweet tea.
3. I started with beef and vegetables, then switched to baked potato.
4. Chocolate cupcake, of course, with white (or maybe green) frosting.

Of my readers, Nicole W. was closest, with these answers: 1. Strawberry 2. Lemonade 3. Chicken noodle 4. Chocolate with whipped white frosting

Thanks for playing!

Description Game

I love the movie Alex & Emma.  Watching an author (however fictional) dictate his story to a stenographer who comments and critiques the whole time is highly entertaining.  I find that it holds some helpful little tidbits of advice for authors, as well.

For example, take one of my favorite comments from Emma (Alex’s response is in parentheses):

I hate it when they do that.  (Who? What?)  You.  Authors.  You use a name like John Shaw and I picture in my mind thin, with a stylish mustache, and then when you finally get around to describing him he’s this fat old fart with a hole in his teeth.

Needless to say, she convinces Alex to change the description of Shaw.  I keep this in mind when I’m introducing a new character or describing a scene, because it’s true.  If you wait too long to give a description, a reader may have already created one based on their own imagination.  When they get to your description, it might irritate them, or clash with their image.  And while it is sometimes worth it to wait to describe someone, and in some cases it’s helpful to encourage the reader to think the wrong thing, I also like to be kind to my readers when I can.

In the spirit of this, I want to play a little game.  I am going to describe some people enjoying food.  At the end I’m going to ask you a question about each food. Are you ready? Here we go.

1. She lifted the plump, glistening berry to her lips.  As she bit into it, sweet juices flooded her mouth.  She grinned and reached for another.

2. The liquid was refreshing as it rushed down his throat.  He took another mouthful and let the cold sweetness linger before he swallowed.  With a sigh of contentment he carefully set down his glass on a coaster.

3. As the steam rose, she inhaled and enjoyed the scent of the soup in front of her.  She dipped her spoon into the bowl and let the savory warmth pour across her tastebuds.  Reaching for a piece of bread, she held it into the soup and let it soak.

4. He grinned as he licked the sweet, creamy icing off of his fingers.  With one finger still coated, he dabbed the bottom of the cupcake paper to collect the last few crumbs.  One cupcake gone, he paused and then reached for a second.

Ready for your questions?  They are basically the same.

What kind of berry did she eat?  What is he drinking?  What type of soup is in the bowl?  What flavor was the cupcake, and what color was the icing?

We’ll see if everyone (or anyone!) has the same answer as what I was imagining when I wrote them.  🙂

Ice Cream

My novel is making me hungry.

More specifically, my novel is making me crave ice cream.  Ice cream is one of my weaknesses and if we’re being honest, this is not an unusual craving.

However, it isn’t helping that my characters have now twice had conversations over ice cream.  This is the bait that Doug uses to keep Kiwi around when she’s tired of answering questions at their first encounter.  It’s also the food that she requests as a way to nonchalantly offer to come back for a second meeting.  It’s very fun to have them eat mint chip and rocky road, and it’s a great way to throw in some personality characteristics as well.  (Plus, how many people expect a fairy to ask for ice cream?)

We’re moving past the ice cream conversations, so hopefully my writing-related cravings will start to dwindle.  I guess that’s the danger of including food in your story!

Signs of Summer

I had sweet corn for dinner tonight.  I love sweet corn, and to me, it’s a great sign of summer.

Of course, it’s been in the 90’s for the past several days, so I don’t really need food to remind me that the heat has arrived.  (Summer is not my favorite season.)  For tonight, however, I am choosing to focus on the positives of summer.

Summer is the season of fresh, beautiful fruits and veggies.  Besides sweet corn (which I love) there are heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, peaches, strawberries, zucchini… the list goes on and on.  I adore the produce of summer, especially if I can get it fresh-picked from a farmer’s market or roadside stand.

There are lovely long days.  Unlike the winter, the sun is almost up when I go to work, and I still have several hours of daylight after I get home.  (In an effort to stay positive, I’m going to ignore the fact that this means the heat lasts longer.)

Hopefully, unless this is another drought year, summer means thunderstorms.  I love a good thunderstorm, with lightning and lots of rain.

Summer has its good aspects, and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of them.  🙂

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